New submitter WillgasM writes "A bit of good news for American travelers, according to the New York Times: 'After years of criticism of the wireless service on its trains, Amtrak announced on Thursday that it had upgraded its cellular-based Wi-Fi using broadband technologies that will improve the speed and reliability of the Internet in its passenger cars.' So far the service has been rolled out on the high-speed Acela lines and a few routes in California, but they hope to have the rest of their trains upgraded by the end of Summer. We're still an order of magnitude away from high-speed rails in other countries, but it's nice to know someone's trying."
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New submitter zlives writes in with news that Florida's DOT changed some language in their yellow light timing regulations, leading to a decrease in the yellow delay. Especially at lights with red light cameras. "From the article: 'Red light cameras generated more than $100 million in revenue last year in approximately 70 Florida communities, with 52.5 percent of the revenue going to the state. The rest is divided by cities, counties, and the camera companies. In 2013, the cameras are on pace to generate $120 million.' I wonder what the camera company cut is?" At least one area has promised to undo the reduction now that they have been caught.
Google's I/O annual conference is ramping up at San Francisco's Moscone Center. Last year, in the conference keynote, the company took its biggest-yet dive into hardware when it introduced the Nexus 7 tablet, Google Glass, and the ill-fated Nexus Q. The secret is out on Glass, of course: this year, there's a pavilion inside the conference center where I'm sure they'll be showing off applications for it. (Quite a few of the people in the endless lines here are wearing their own, too.) Anticipating the announcements at I/O is practically its own industry, but it's easy to guess that there will be announcements from all the major pots in which Google has its many thousands of (tapping) fingers. Android, search, Chrome, mapping, and all the other ways in which the behemoth of Mountain View is watching what you do. You can watch the keynote talk (talks, really) streamed online from the main conference link above, but this story will be updated with highlights of the announcements, as well with stories that readers contribute. Update: 05/15 16:22 GMT by T : Updates below. Update: 05/15 19:02 GMT by T :Update details: Notes (ongoing) added below on maps, gaming, the Play store, Google+, and more. And, notable, Larry Page is (at this writing) on stage, with an unannounced Q & A session.
Officials for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board have recommended a nationwide lowering of the blood-alcohol level considered safe for operating a car. The threshold is currently 0.08% — the NTSB wants to cut that to 0.05%. "That's about one drink for a woman weighing less than 120 lbs., two for a 160 lb. man. More than 100 countries have adopted the .05 alcohol content standard or lower, according to a report by the board's staff. In Europe, the share of traffic deaths attributable to drunken driving was reduced by more than half within 10 years after the standard was dropped, the report said. NTSB officials said it wasn't their intention to prevent drivers from having a glass of wine with dinner, but they acknowledged that under a threshold as low as .05 the safest thing for people who have only one or two drinks is not to drive at all. ... Alcohol concentration levels as low as .01 have been associated with driving-related performance impairment, and levels as low as .05 have been associated with significantly increased risk of fatal crashes, the board said."
nametaken writes with this excerpt from Slate: "From the state that brought you the nation's first ban on climate science comes another legislative gem: a bill that would prohibit automakers from selling their cars in the state. The proposal, which the Raleigh News & Observer reports was unanimously approved by the state's Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday, would apply to all car manufacturers, but the intended target is clear. It's aimed at Tesla, the only U.S. automaker whose business model relies on selling cars directly to consumers, rather than through a network of third-party dealerships. ... [The article adds] it's easy to understand why some car dealers might feel a little threatened: Tesla's Model S outsold the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8 last quarter without any help from them. If its business model were to catch on, consumers might find that they don't need the middle-men as much as they thought." State laws imposing restrictions on manufacturers in favor of dealers aren't new, though; For more on ways that franchise operations have "used state regulations to protect their profits" long before Tesla was in the picture, check out this 2009 interview with Duke University's Michael Munger.
First time accepted submitter vawarayer writes "An experimental car has crashed near a school in British Columbia, Canada. Only five cars like this have been produced. From the article: 'A release from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) confirmed the flying car was "an American corporately registered I-Tech Maverick SP Powered Parachute" that had crashed. The vehicle, known as "Maverick," uses a 100-metre runway to take off and flies under a parasail. But it also needs a 100-metre runway to make a safe landing.'"
Lucas123 writes "Researchers are developing machine-to-machine (M2M) communication technology that allows cars to exchange data with each other, enabling vehicles to know what the cars all around them are doing, and perhaps, where they're going. Intel is working with National Taiwan University on M2M connectivity, an idea came from caravanning — an available, but-not-yet-deployed technology that uses direct line of site infrared (IR) and a range finder in order to automatically adjust the speed of cars so they can travel at a measured distance from each other. In other words, they're electronically tethered to one another. Now, imagine a group of cars traveling down the road together as an ad hoc network, each one aware of the location, any sudden actions or even the travel route of other vehicles as uploaded to the cloud from a GPS device. 'We're even imagining in the future cars would be able to ask other cars, "Hey, can I cut into your lane?" Then the other car would let you in,' said Jennifer Healey, a research scientist with Intel."
An anonymous reader writes "While liquid hydrogen may not be a mainstream fuel for drones, the aerospace industry has said it holds the promise of flight endurance on the order of days, seemingly just another far-fetched aerospace industry pitch ... until now. The Naval Research Laboratory just announced that the Ion Tiger, a diminutive 37-pound airplane with a 17 foot wingspan, flew for 48 hours and 1 minute on liquid hydrogen and a fuel cell (anyone else notice the oddly specific duration? Guess it's better than 47 hours 59 minutes). This is a dramatically different scale than the liquid hydrogen powered 150 foot wingspan Boeing Phantom Eye and 175 foot wingspan AeroVironment Global Observer, which have yet to live up to their multi-day endurance projections. Interestingly enough, the well-known Global Hawk only has an endurance of 33.1 hours, which barely cracks Wikipedia's list of notable UAV endurance flights. Of course, solar-electric airplanes have flown for two weeks continuously, but that sure seems like refueling!"
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has been thinking about bringing autonomous driving technology to Tesla's electric cars. Quoting Bloomberg: "Musk, 41, said technologies that can take over for drivers are a logical step in the evolution of cars. He has talked with Google about the self-driving technology it’s been developing, though he prefers to think of applications that are more like an airplane’s autopilot system. 'I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self- driving,' Musk said in an interview. 'Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.' ... Google’s approach builds on a push for the driverless-car technology long pursued by the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which held vehicle competitions for carmakers and research labs. Anthony Levandowski, product manager for Google’s self-driving car project, has said the company expects to release the technology within five years. 'The problem with Google’s current approach is that the sensor system is too expensive,' Musk said. 'It’s better to have an optical system, basically cameras with software that is able to figure out what’s going on just by looking at things.' ... 'I think Tesla will most likely develop its own autopilot system for the car, as I think it should be camera-based, not Lidar-based,' Musk said yesterday in an e-mail. 'However, it is also possible that we do something jointly with Google.'" Musk later warned not to take this as an actual announcement.
garymortimer writes "OppiKoppi music festival in South Africa plans to deliver beer to campers via flying robot." All I want to know is, when is beer via flying robot distribution coming to a grocery store near me.
An anonymous reader writes "Terrafugia has unveiled plans to build a semi-autonomous, hybrid-electric, vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle for personal aviation. The new design, called TF-X, is in the works even as the company's first product, Transition, is still awaiting production because of technical and regulatory hurdles. Terrafugia's founder says the goal of TF-X, if it can get past the safety issues in both aviation and automotive industries, is to 'open up personal aviation to all of humanity.' But it will have a lot of competition from companies including AgustaWestland, Pipistrel, and the stealthy Zee.Aero, all of which are working on vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles for consumers."
Lucas123 writes "While you can buy a 1TB hard drive for your computer for less than $100, Ford today offers 10GB. Don't expect much more anytime soon. Apart from the obvious — a car's development process can be four years long — the automotive industry also tends to be behind the tech curve because of a lack of equipment standardization. And, while it's possible for the industry to build modular infotainment systems that could be upgraded over the life of the car, there are no plans to do so. Instead, car companies intend to offer software upgradable vehicles through 4G connectivity and data storage and entertainment streaming through the cloud, which means they have to worry less about onboard hardware reliability and standardization."
Why does a car rated for 47mpg fall so far short? The Houston Chronicle features an article on just why EPA gas estimates can be so different from real-world drivers' experience at the pump (or in looking at the dashboard display), in particular for hybrid cars. From the article: "A geometric average of the FTP-75 and HFET results (with city driving weighted at 55 percent and highway driving weighted at 45 percent) produces a vehicle's CAFE fuel economy, which is then incorporated into a manufacturer's corporate average. CAFE is measured using these tests to the present day. In fact, this methodology will be 50 years old when it's used to gauge compliance with the forthcoming 54.5-mpg CAFE requirements in 2025. That kind of continuity is admirable in baseball, but not in transportation. These tests are irrelevant to contemporary real-world driving. For example, the maximum acceleration on either test is 3.3 mph per second. At that rate, it takes more than 18 seconds to hit 60 mph. Even in the horsepower-deprived 1970s, most people were driving harder than that. And the 60-mph maximum speed on the highway test does not accord with the 75-mph truth of today's interstate traffic."
cold fjord writes "It looks like another milestone for hypersonic flight has been reached. From the story: 'The final flight of the X-51A Waverider test program has accomplished a breakthrough in the development of flight reaching Mach 5.1 over the Pacific Ocean . . ."It was a full mission success," said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate. The cruiser traveled over 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. It was the longest of the four X-51A test flights and the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever. . . This was the last of four test vehicles originally conceived when the $300 million technology demonstration program began in 2004. The program objective was to prove the viability of air-breathing, high-speed scramjet propulsion. The X-51A is unique primarily due to its use of a hydrocarbon fuel in its supersonic combustion ramjet, or Scramjet, engine. ... The use of logistically supportable hydrocarbon fuel is widely considered vital for the practical application of hypersonic flight.'"
Techdirt explains the strange story of a lawsuit-happy bus company in Illinois which managed to tick off a cadre of determined redditors by calling them uncomplimentary names in the reddit forums. This all started when a bus passenger, Jeremy Leval, reported unsavory behavior by a company employee (telling an exchange student "If you don't understand English, you don't belong at the University of Illinois or any 'American' University.") and said so online. Besides the name calling on reddit, the bus company threatened the forum moderator with libel charges, and over insults posted by the bus company employees which the moderator had deleted. Further, company owner "[Dennis] Toeppen threatened to sue Leval, saying, 'The attorneys for Suburban Express are reviewing this incident with a view towards filing the appropriate legal action against this meddlesome MBA student.'" Attorney Ken White of Popehat got involved, though, and asked with good effect whether the company had fully considered the Streisand Effect. The strangest part? Toeppen's former involvement as a domain squatter.
A year ago today, we noted that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called for the abolition of the Transportation Security Administration. It's now nearly 12 years since the hijacked-plane terror attacks of 2001; the TSA was created barely two months later, and has been (with various rules, procedures, and equipment, all of it controversial for reasons of privacy, safety, and efficacy) a major presence ever since at American commercial airports. "The American people shouldn't be subjected to harassment, groping, and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane," wrote Paul last year, and in June of 2012, he followed up by introducing two bills on the topic; the first calling for a "bill of rights" for air travelers, the other for privatizing airport screening practices. Neither bill went far. Should they have? Libertarian-leaning Paul did not succeed in knocking back the TSA, never mind privatizing its functions (currently funded at nearly $8 billion annually), though some of the things called for in his bill of rights are manifest now at least in muted form. (Very young passengers, as well as elderly passengers, face less stringent security requirements, for instance, and TSA has ended its prohibition of certain items aboard planes.) Whether you're from the U.S. or not, what practical changes would you like to see implemented? What shouldn't be on the bill of rights for airplane passengers?
waderoush writes "A rash of media reports last week, reporting on a study released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, implied that using voice-to-text apps like Siri or Vlingo while driving is no safer than manual texting. But Adam Cheyer, the co-inventor of Siri, says journalists took the wrong message from the study, which didn't test Siri or Vlingo in the recommended hands-free, eyes-free mode. In the study, researchers asked subjects to drive a closed course while they held an iPhone or Android phone in one hand, spoke messages into Siri or Vlingo, proofread the messages visually, and pressed buttons to send the messages. Under these conditions, driver response times were delayed by nearly a factor of two, the researchers found. 'Of course your driving performance is going to be degraded if you're reading screens and pushing buttons,' says Cheyer, who joined Apple in 2010 as part of the Siri acquisition and left the company two years later. To study whether voice-to-text apps are really safer than manual texting, he says, the Texas researchers should have tested Siri and Vlingo in car mode, where a Bluetooth headset or speakers are used to minimize visual and manual interaction. 'The study seems to have misunderstood how Siri was designed to be used,' Cheyer says. 'I don't think that there is any evidence that shows that if Siri and other systems are used properly in eyes-free mode, they are 'just as risky as texting.''"
Velcroman1 writes "Following the historic first rocket-powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, Virgin Galactic plans to build a fleet of spaceships and begin ferrying hundreds of tourists into space in 2014. And then? A whole new kind of spacecraft, Sir Richard Branson said. 'We'll be building orbital spaceships after that,' Branson told Fox News Tuesday, 'so that people who want to go for a week or two can.' Assuming the cost is on the same scale, would you pay a few hundred grand for a few weeks in orbit?"
vinces99 writes "Those trips to the store can take a chunk out of your day and put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But now University of Washington engineers have found that using a grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared with individual household trips to the store. Trucks filled to capacity that deliver to customers clustered in neighborhoods produced the most savings in carbon dioxide emissions, but there are even benefits with delivery to rural areas."
ehartwell writes "It's official. This morning, after WhiteKnightTwo released SpaceShipTwo at an altitude of around 50,000 feet, pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury ignited the engine for a roughly 16-second blast. After the engine cutoff, the plane coasted back to its landing back at the Mojave airport. Virgin Galactic tweeted that the pilots confirmed 'SpaceShipTwo exceeded the speed of sound on today's flight!' Its predecessor, SpaceShipOne, first went supersonic December 17, 2003."